House 2008: Another Retirement Nightmare for the GOP
by Jonathan Singer, Wed Sep 19, 2007 at 03:38:40 PM EDT
Things just keep getting worse and worse for House Republicans. The week began with an announcement by GOP Congressman Jim Ramstad, who represents a marginally Republican district in the Minneapolis suburbs, that he would not be seeking reelection this cycle, putting his seat very much up for grabs. Now comes reports out of Illinois that Jerry Weller, who represents a similarly marginal district, will not run for reelection, opening up his seat. The Chicago Tribune has the story.
Rep. Jerry Weller (R-Ill.) is set to announce his retirement in the near future, two Republican sources tell the Tribune. One of the sources said the announcement could come as early as tomorrow.
Weller's spokesman did immediately not return a call seeking comment.
Weller, a seven-term incumbent, has faced questions about his re-election intentions all month, following a Tribune investigation that revealed he failed to disclose several land transactions in Nicaragua on his congressional ethics forms.
The Tribune also reported last week that a charity formed by Weller's wife, Zury Rios de Weller of Guatemala, raised questions about whether Weller could legally exclude her assets from his congressional filings.
As noted above, Weller's district, Illinois 11th (Western Chicago suburbs and some of Central Illinois), is only marginally Republican in its make up. According to the Cook Political Report's Partisan Voting Index it leans only about a point more Republican than the nation as a whole in presidential elections. As the Report (subsription required; .pdf) noted back in May, "[T]his is not a safely Republican district. There are 38 Democrats who sit in districts that have a PVI equal to or more Republican than this one." What's more, the Report also pointed out that Will County, which makes up about half of the district's vote, has seen a shift in recent years from the Republicans to the Democrats, with Rod Blagojevich, for instance, increasing his vote share from 44 percent to 52 percent in the county from 2002 to 2006.
While this may be one of those rare situations in which it is better for the incumbent party not to have the incumbent on the ballot due to ethics or corruption issues, this news still comes as a blow to the House GOP, which is desperately trying to limit the number of open seat races it must defend -- particularly in highly competitive districts. While the Democrats are no doubt going to need to find a strong candidate to run in the district if they hope to win, I'd probably put money on the Democrats to pick up this seat before I would on the Republicans to hold it.